How to Qualify for the Nationals – The Loong way – Rob Appleyard

1532
How to Qualify for the Nationals – The Loong way – Rob Appleyard

 

I’ll let you know the ending: I qualified, I just took my time about it.

Instead of simply writing a report of the time I did well, I thought I would report in less detail on the whole season—the failures as well as the successes and what I’ve learnt from them.

1) Southampton – Eldrazi Green

2 Wurmcoil Engine

1 Acidic Slime

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

2 Summoning Trap

3 Cultivate

3 Explore

3 Green Sun’s Zenith

4 Growth Spasm

2 All Is Dust

11 Forest

4 Eldrazi Temple

4 Khalni Garden

1 Mystifying Maze

3 Tectonic Edge

1 Eye of Ugin

Sideboard:

1 Contagion Engine

3 Ratchet Bomb

2 Phyrexian Revoker

1 Steel Hellkite

2 Acidic Slime

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Obstinate Baloth

1 Summoning Trap

1 Mindslaver

4-2-1    LWLWWDW

This was my first qualifier of the season. I took two defeats early to UB Poison in the first round and Valakut in the third, which left me out of contention. The deck felt strong, but it clearly had some issues with Valakut. Its winning plan against Caw-Blade relied on the game going long, which meant that winning a 3-game match was potentially a serious problem. I discovered this in round 5, where I won game 2 on turn of extra turns.

Conclusions from Southampton:

Eldrazi Green is a good deck, but it’s not right for a Nationals Qualifier metagame. There’s a lot of aggro around and it’s worse than Valkut in those matchups, while against a control deck it can very easily go to time (draws are awful in NQs). Finally, after further testing, the Valakut matchup felt very bad – it’s a goldfish battle and Valakut is just a turn faster. I wasn’t happy with the deck, and needed to change.

*****

2) Oxford – Valakut

For Oxford, I had a choice between two decks:  a Goblins list that I had been testing, or a straight Valakut deck. My friend James had a fully-built version of Toni Ramis’ top 8 deck from GP Barcelona. The Goblins had been testing well, but I felt that there was a lot of Mono-Red around and people would be packing Kor Firewalkers, which are horrible.

I feel that Mono-Red and Goblins are potentially good decks, especially at higher-level tournaments where the metagame tends toward control, but at lower levels they tend to be the victim of their own popularity. They’re cheap to build and perceived as being easy to play, which means in turn that people are ready with the sideboarded Firewalkers. They have have answers to Firewalker, but in my view none of them are very strong, and it’s better just to avoid playing the Firewalker game altogether.

3 Inferno Titan

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Summoning Trap

4 Explore

2 Green Sun’s Zenith

5 Forest

11 Mountain

1 Evolving Wilds

1 Khalni Garden

3 Misty Rainforest

3 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard:

2 Acidic Slime

3 Obstinate Baloth

3 Nature’s Claim

2 Act of Treason

1 Green Sun’s Zenith

4 Pyroclasm

RESULT: 3-3     WWLLLW

I beat Anthony, a fellow Oxford player, with Vampires in the first round; a good start for me, but then I lost to UB Poison and it went downhill from there. A win in the last round against an untuned Goblins deck restored a little respectability, but 3-3 isn’t nearly good enough. On the upside, James qualified with Caw-Blade at his first attempt.

*****

3) Reading – Valakut

2 Inferno Titan

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Summoning Trap

4 Explore

2 Green Sun’s Zenith

5 Forest

11 Mountain

1 Khalni Garden

3 Misty Rainforest

4 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard:

1 Acidic Slime

4 Obstinate Baloth

3

2 Act of Treason

1 Green Sun’s Zenith

2 Pyroclasm

2 Slagstorm

RESULT: 4-1   LWWWW

For Reading I stuck with almost the same list as Oxford, and things looked a little better. Sadly, my round 1 loss to Mono-Red was enough to eliminate me – there were 3 slots on offer, and winning out to 4-1 left me fourth on tiebreakers.

I beat two UB poison decks, one WW Quest deck and one GW Quest. Play of the day was winning game three against WW Quest, despite him completing the Quest and attacking on turn 3. I Harrowed away the land he targetted with Armour, sacrificed Khalni Heart Expedition, and next turn Zenithed for Acidic Slime to kill the armour. From there I could mop up with a sweeper.

Conclusions from Reading and Oxford: The deck is good, but you need to be a bit lucky. Mono-Red is clearly a problem. Summoning Trap was whiffing a lot, but I wasn’t comfortable cutting it because that would mean giving up percentage against control decks. My sideboard plan against aggro had issues; I was cutting creatures and Traps for control elements, and that left me dangerously light on threats.

*****

4) Milton Keynes – Valakut

Before this tournament, I had the option to borrow a Caw-Blade deck. At the time, I’d decided I would rather play a deck that I knew well and suits my attitude to Magic, than pick up and learn a relatively complex deck from scratch. I have a bad habit of turning up to constructed formats under-prepared, so I tend to shy away from control decks. I was particularly worried about losing/drawing mirror matches due to lack of practice.

In retrospect, I think this was a poor move; Caw-Blade was the best deck in the format by a mile, and the NQ metagame was full of decks that Caw-Blade has excellent margins against. I only played against a few Caw-Blades all season, so mirror matches were hardly a concern. I should have just put in the practice to become comfortable with the deck, and kicked arse with the best deck in standard. Lesson to learn: Don’t be afraid of control decks.

2 Inferno Titan

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Summoning Trap

4 Explore

2 Green Sun’s Zenith

5 Forest

11 Mountain

1 Khalni Garden

3 Misty Rainforest

4 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard:

1 Acidic Slime

1 Viridian Corrupter

4 Obstinate Baloth

2 Nature’s Claim

2 Treacherous Instinct

1 Green Sun’s Zenith

2 Pyroclasm

2 Slagstorm

RESULT: 2-4   LWLLWL

In the actual tournament, I played a similar build to before, but further tweaks to the sideboard. It didn’t go so well this time–I’ve mostly blanked it out. Losses included Caw-Blade, Mono-Red and Elves one of the wins was against UB control.

*****

5) Chesham- Valakut

2 Inferno Titan

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Summoning Trap

4 Explore

2 Green Sun’s Zenith

5 Forest

11 Mountain

1 Khalni Garden

3 Misty Rainforest

4 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard:

1 Acidic Slime

1 Viridian Corrupter

4 Obstinate Baloth

2 Nature’s Claim

2 Treacherous Instinct

1 Green Sun’s Zenith

2 Pyroclasm

2 Slagstorm

Treacherous Instinct replaces Act of Treason in the sideboard because Valakut tends to deal damage in packets of six or twelve – typically you tap 2 forests and 4 mountains for Titan, get two Valakuts when it comes into play, and then attack for 6, getting two more mountains and dealing 12 damage. Instinct’s +2 power is often capable of adding the extra two points you need to get to 20.

RESULT: 4-2     LWWLWW

Again, I was out of contention early on. First loss was a close one against Boros (Max Simpson), thanks to Tunnel Ignus, but the second loss to Graham Baker makes a pretty good bad beat story – he was playing a homebrew monowhite list.

Game 1 I was looking good with two Khalni Heart Expeditions on two counters after passing on turn 3, but then… Phyrexian Revoker. Khalni Heart Expedition is the only card in my deck that really cares about that, so I was miffed. Losing two ramp spells like that left me out of ammo, and I lost from there.

Next game… I dropped threat after threat, but he had an answer for every one. I had finally set up for a big Valakut turn… but suddenly, the monowhite deck cast two Archive Traps! They mill every single mountain from my deck. It’s hopeless.

My friend Laura qualified with Caw-Blade at this tournament – she went 6-0 and got a free hotel room for nationals, you can read her report here :)

I spoke to Matt, who qualified with Valakut in Oxford after this tournament, to give me some suggestions. His advice was to cut the Summoning Traps and Lotus Cobras to improve consistency, add Wall of Tanglecord and more Zeniths to the maindeck, while sideboarding Ricochet Trap (for control) and Memoricides (for the mirror and UB).

Conclusions from MK and Chesham:

I tested Matt’s suggestions, and concluded that while losing the Traps seemed to work, the explosiveness from Lotus Cobra was very useful, especially in the mirror and against Fauna Shaman, and Wall of Tanglecord felt awkward. Instead I added Tumble Magnet maindeck, which does all sorts of useful things – it can stop a sworded Hawk without needing mana, it can stop an Argentum Armour, it can fight opposing Magnets, and it can tap Titans in the Mirror. There’s nothing it’s particularly weak against either.

The magnets helped the case for adding the Cobras back in to smooth out the mana curve, since you don’t want to leave yourself too short on 2-drops.

I adopted all the sideboard changes, and on Saturday morning got on the bus to…

*****

6) London – Valakut

11 Mountain

5 Forest

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

4 Evolving Wilds

3 Verdant Catacombs

1 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

1 Inferno Titan

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Explore

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Green Sun’s Zenith

3 Tumble Magnet

Sideboard:

4 Memoricide

1 Viridian Corrupter

2 Slagstorm

1 Swamp

2 Pyroclasm

1 Acidic Slime

1 Obstinate Baloth

3 Ricochet Trap

RESULT: 3-3     WWLWLL

Not so great. I lost to Caw-Blade, Max Simpson and his Tunnel Ignus again, and one other. My favourite match of the day was round 4 against Adam Pilcher (I think). He had a mono-white poison deck (!) which used Tempered Steel, Steel Overseer and Windborne Charge (!) to make some really big artifact poison creatures. Necropede, Ichorclaw Myr and Inkmoth Nexus were there, obviously, but even more surprising was Phyrexian Digester to fill the 3-slot! The deck was really cool, but sadly the only cards it gets from New Phyrexia are Lost Leonin and Dispatch.

Conclusions from London:

The Ricochet Traps sucked royally the one time I needed them, as I got stuck with two in hand and 6 mana while my opponent was hitting with Sword of Feast and Famine. They felt too reactive. 4 Memoricides felt like overkill; UB decks don’t have that many to attack me with, and my Cobras help in the mirror in any case.

My SB removal package was wrong – the Pyroclasms and Slagstorms were too slow against Boros, as the Sword comes down on my endstep, and you don’t really want sweepers against mono-red, as they only have 11-ish creatures post-board anyway. That led me to my final version…

*****

7) Worcester – Valakut

11 Mountain

5 Forest

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

4 Evolving Wilds

3 Verdant Catacombs

1 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Overgrown Battlement

4 Primeval Titan

1 Inferno Titan

1 Avenger of Zendikar

4 Lotus Cobra

4 Explore

3 Khalni Heart Expedition

4 Harrow

4 Green Sun’s Zenith

3 Tumble Magnet

Sideboard:

3 Memoricide

1 Viridian Corrupter

3 Lightning Bolt

1 Swamp

2 Pyroclasm

1 Acidic Slime

1 Obstinate Baloth

3 Precursor Golem

The Bolts felt much better than sweepers at dealing with the problem threat. The format is tending toward decks with one dangerous guy, rather than decks which spam creatures everywhere. Instant speed on the Bolts lets you respond to Boros equipping a sword, or shoot a Goblin Guide after the trigger resolves, which sorcery-speed sweepers can’t do. The Pyroclasms are still there against creature-spammy Vengvine decks, but there just aren’t many of them around and they tend to be good matchups.

The Memoricides are still present, but 3 seems better than 4 as you don’t want to draw too many. They are mainly for the mirror, but I saw opposing Memoricides game 2 I could board in my own to fight head-on.

Precursor Golem was my replacement for Ricochet Trap. You know the line; ‘There are no wrong threats’.

RESULT: 5-0-1             WWWWWD

Finally. The first two rounds were a nice start, as I beat two newer players with mono-red decks. Next came my first RUG opponent of the qualifier season.

Game 1 I Cobra-ed out some big things, while in game 2 I sadly had fewer threats than he had Flashfreezes.

Game 3, though, my sideboard delivered the goods, as a huge squad of Precursor Golems showed up, laughing at puny Flashfreezes! Next came Naya Vengevine, an excellent matchup which I was able to take 2-0. Finally, at 4-0, I was win-and in.

My opponent was also 4-0 and wanted to draw – he’d figured out that 4-0-2 would definitely qualify, and 4-1-1 was probably safe. In the end I turned him down; I had poor tiebreakers. I didn’t want to draw, and then get paired down and have to play in the final round. I was especially cautious of relying on breakers after Reading. This decision is debatable, but that was my choice at the time. He was Mono Red and had two bad draws for the matchup.

In Game 1 his only creature was a Kargan Dragonlord which couldn’t get past my Tumble Magnet, while in game 2 he double-mulliganned and never got anywhere. His only hope was Mark of Mutiny – again, neutered by Tumble Magnet. Finally, I could safely ID the last round, a mirror match for what it matters. That left me locked for first place in the tournament and my opponent safely qualified.

Conclusions from Worcester:

Looks like the Magnets were the right idea. The Precursor Golems were enormously better than Ricochet Trap, and the Lightning Bolts were just what the doctor ordered. I faced a weird set of matchups – only one control deck and three mono-reds – so I couldn’t really evaluate many of the other changes. However, this deck felt very strong for the whole tournament (obviously there is an element of results-oriented thinking here…).

Overall record for the qualifier season – 25-15-2

*****

How do I feel about Valakut now?

It’s certainly strong, but I feel my build was far more optimised for the Nationals Qualifier metagame than for a top-level tournament. There aren’t enough Jace decks, and especially not enough Caw-Blades to make the Traps reliably cost 0. You never know what you are facing next, so a more combo-ish build that is good at simply ignoring opponents makes sense. The Magnets were awesome every time I drew them; they are great against swords, and the only deck that I didn’t want them against was RUG, and they aren’t terrible there.

I never felt like I had a reliable way of beating Caw-Blade – sure, I had some potential paths to victory, but they didn’t work often enough, especially with the Mortarpod tech that was everywhere by late in the season. There’s a very good argument that I should have taken up the offer of a Caw-Blade deck for MK onwards, rather than sticking with Valakut.

Looking ahead to New Phyrexia, I can see that Deceiver Exarch combo, if real, is going to be a royal pain in the arse. A fast-ish combo with counterspell backup is just not something Valakut can easily interact with. I don’t know how the post-NPH metagame will shake out, but Valakut appears to get very little from the set, so metagame conditions will dictate changes. I can’t see Valakut disappearing entirely though. The raw power of the deck is something you just can’t ignore.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to reading your comments,

Rob Appleyard

 

Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways